By: Sue McGuire
Pets used to live outside. The farm dog hung out in the barn or slept under the front porch. Cats lived in the barn loft and did their job of keeping the vermin at bay. Fast forward a few generations. It’s often recommended that cats be “indoor only” and hundreds of dollars can be spent on an orthopedic bed for the dog.
Just because we bring those former barnyard residents inside the house may not mean they are healthier for it. Scientists often cite our companion animals as “canaries in the coal mine.” Household environmental toxins can be a major concern. According to a report from Environmental Working Group (EWG), industrial chemicals show up in our pets at even higher rates than the average human, The chemicals most detected were stain and grease proof coatings and flame retardants used in furniture and flooring.
“At the forefront of people’s minds is if a home is pet friendly, then more importantly it will be human friendly,” says Andy Bannister of Earthtone Construction in Sebastopol. He says it makes sense that if animals are more susceptible to the toxins often contained in building materials, making it safe for them will make it safe for the human occupants. Bannister says he put in formaldehyde free flooring in his home with wood that was certified from the Forest Steward Council. “It’s antique stained so that if Bailar (his Golden Retriever) digs in her nails, it doesn’t show,” he notes.
Bannister says if he were putting in flooring for a client with animals he would recommend the “harder the better like tile or concrete.” Those too can be installed using green friendly methods.
Pergo™ flooring or laminate wood flooring often withstands the dog nails and although tough, it does contained formaldehyde and should be out-gassed after installation. A Sebastopol man recalls getting new carpeting throughout his house and not realizing the impact it was having on his miniature Schnauzer who lost his hair. It lasted until the carpet quit smelling “new.”
For people with committed sofa surfing pets, hemp mixed with raw silk or wool are often the best bets for fabrics says Susan Bahl, owner of Natural Home Source of Forestville. “Pets are really sensitive to the chemicals put into products,” says Bahl. Because of that, she discourages people from using cat scratch posts made from polyester carpeting or pet beds made out of polyester batting. “Back in the old days, cotton and/or wool batting was used and that is what is best to use now,” she says.
Having a pet and a beautiful, healthy garden are not mutually exclusive says Rick Taylor, owner of Eldercreek Landscaping of Sebastopol. Aside from not using toxic fertilizers and plants in gardens, there are other pet friendly approaches. “Observe where your pet naturally walks and create pathways of hardscape along those trails.” If your dog likes to throw balls and toys Taylor suggests that people “plant more durable foliage, like grasses that can take a blow” toward the front of bedding areas.